SubScribe: February 2014 Google+

Sunday 16 February 2014

Snowboarding Jenny struggles to hold her own against Kate up front ...and Man Utd on the back

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GB's first snow medallist, Jenny Jones. Photograph: Daily Telegraph

Editing is all about making decisions. Sometimes the choices are tough.

Do we go with a new picture of a pretty blonde few have heard of, but who has done something no Briton has done before?

Or should we use a photograph of the pretty brunette we've seen tens of thousands of times, and doing something most mothers do every day? A photograph, what's more, that has already been seen in every supermarket and newsagent on the cover of Hello! magazine.

It was a close call but n the end, the brunette edged it. The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George in St Lucia was the front-page choice for five papers last Monday. 

 Four went for the snowboarding bronze medallist Jenny Jones. 

The royal mum and baby were the winning choice
 for most papers, even though the picture
had been on supermarket shelves for a week

Jones not only failed to secure a front-page slot in the Mail, she didn't get onto the back either. In common with almost every other paper, the Mail splashed its sports section on Manchester United's draw with Fulham. 

The exception was the Telegraph, which led its general sports supplement with the Games and restricted Moyes' misery to the Total Football section. The Telegraph is far from alone in having a supplement  devoted entirely to football, but it is the only paper to exercise this sort of restraint. 

The default setting for everyone else is to have football on the first few pages working in from the back of the main paper as well.

BBC2 achieved an audience of up to 3m for Jenny Jones's snowboarding event in Sochi, and its Winter Olympics coverage had a bigger share of the all-day audience than ITV on both Saturday and Sunday. So people are interested.  This is just the sort of achievement that inspires youngsters to take up a new sport they may never have thought of.

Yet only the Guardian used an Olympic picture on the back - every other sports section restricted Jones to a puff to the coverage inside.

It's not only snowboarding that suffers. Even in the miserable rain and wind, millions of people will have been out walking, running, jumping, climbing, swimming, pogo-jumping this weekend. Yet minority sports don't get a look in.

The mainstream sports don't do much better. Last weekend saw the start of the Six Nations rugby, the British indoor athletics championship and the ECB explaining why it has given Kevin Pietersen the boot. All of these, and horse racing, found homes however bijou - everywhere. But what about tennis, badminton, hockey, golf, cycling, boxing, rallying, equestrianism? 

Almost all consigned to the 5pt results page. Is this right?

Fulham's Darren Bent celebrates after the 94th minute equaliser
against Manchester United last weekend

Several years ago, Gameoldgirl had a bit of a run-in with the Times sports department when a strong cricket story broke late on a Sunday evening. Were we interested in taking it up front? 

Not the whole story, but we'd certainly like a write-off to cross-ref to the sport splash.

'Oh we won't be splashing on it.'

'Because we always splash on football.'
'But you've got 24 pages of The Game for football.'
'Yes, but we have to splash on the football.'
'Well, couldn't you split the page and do the picture on the footie and a text splash on cricket?'
'No. That's not the style. We give the whole page to football. But if you want to change the way we do things...'"

Gameoldgirl retreats in surrender.

When the sportsman had disappeared back to his office, a former sports executive who now holds a senior position in news, leant across the desk and said: 'He's right, you know. We have to splash on the football whatever happens. ..And I much prefer cricket.'

Another standing rule for a Sunday at the Times was that the front page puff had to be devoted to The Game and that it was not to be diluted with pointers to any other element of the paper. 

Nor was it unusual for the main front-page picture to be football-related. 

This approach was not born from the whim of a particular editor - it was embraced by successive editors, deputies, night editors and sports executives not only at the Times, but at many other papers.

Every stop is pulled out to ensure that every evening result is in the next day's first edition - and if a European game goes to extra time and penalties, a paper can be up to two hours late on the presses and they still won't start without the final score. If the front page is offstone ten minutes late on any other night, there's hell to pay.

The rigid philosophy has been tempered over the years, but football continues to dominate every section that claims to write about 'sport'.

Of course football is big business, very big business. It's also soap opera, the main topic of conversation in the pub, at dinner parties -  at any social event, in fact, where strangers seek common ground to make small talk or where friends and neighbours dramatise their rivalries. No one is doubting the very great interest in the game.

Football coverage is such an essential selling point for newspapers that many of them have 16, 20 and 24-page supplements. So essential that Monday papers routinely devote more column inches to that one sport than to the entire home, foreign and business sections put together.

So why do those must-read, must-puff  football sections never have any advertisements in them? 

SubScribe doesn't have the answer, but we thought it would be interesting to do an audit of one day's sports coverage across the national papers to see how the valuable space is shared out.

Match of the Day routinely attracts around 4m viewers. Radio5Live and its Sports Extra sister also have a growing audience - reaching more than 6.5m a week, according to  quarterly ratings released last week. 

There will therefore have been few sports fans who woke  on Monday unaware of the tensions and last-minute dramas at Old Trafford. 

Of course this was the main football story of the day. Of course Moyes is under the microscope. The question here is whether sport in general is suffering from this level of coverage - and whether it bears any responsibility for the ludicrous turnover of football managers this season.

We hear endlessly about the need for the nation to get fit. Yet our sports pages cater almost entirely for the armchair pundits who wear tracksuits for no reason other than to hide the blubber and catch the dribbled pizza. 

That is why SubScribe thinks the balance needs to be shifted.

Here is the evidence from last weekend: 

Monday's sports coverage in numbers

Sun back page 10-402-1
The Sun
Main book 11 of 60 pages
Back page

Splash Man U 
Picture Rooney 
Puffs 1 x Olympics
2 x football

Inside pages
4 x football, 2 x Olympics, 

2 x racing, 1 x rugby, 
1 x Pietersen
Goals supplement 28 pages
Supplement advertising
2 20x3s, baseline strips on several pages, all for Wickes

Total football space 
33 of 88 pages (37%)

Independent back page 10-02-14
Main book
16 of 56 pages
Back page
Splash  Cricket
Picture Bent (v Man U)
1 x Olympics
1 x football

1 x athletics

Inside pages
5 x football, 4 x rugby, 

2 x Olympics, 1 x athletics,
1 x Pietersen, 1 x opinion, 

1 x results
Advertising None

Total football space
5.5 of 56 pages (10%)

Guardian sports cover 10-02-14
Main book
0 of 34 pages
14 pages
Picture Olympics
Splash Man U
s/c on Pietersen

6 x football, 2 x rugby
2 x racing

2 x Olympics, 
with cycling and athletics
at the edges
1 x opinion
Advertising 4 house ads

Total football space
6.5 of 44 pages (15%)

Telegraph sports front 10-02-14
Main book 0 of 30 pages
Sport supplement 16 pages
Cover Olympics
Puffs 1 x rugby, 1 x Pietersen
Inside pages
6 x rugby, 1 x opinion

4 x Olympics, with golf at edge
2 x racing, 1 x cricket
1 x athletics/equestrianism
Total Football supplement 

22 pages
Sport advertising 

1 10x7, 4 house ads
Football advertising 
1 page
Total football space
22 of 68 pages (32%)

Daily Star back page 10-02-14
Daily Star
Main book 11 of 52 pages
Back page
Splash Man U
Picture Rooney
Puffs 1 x football
1 x Olympics
Inside pages
4 x football, 4 x racing, 
spread on Olympics and Pietersen with bit of rugby, golf and athletics
Seriously Football pull-out

20 pages
Supplement advertising "in association with Wickes" 
1 x full page, 1 x half page,

1 20x3, 1 25x3, front page 10x5 
Total football space
25 of 72 pages (35%)

Mirror back page 10-02-14
Main book 
11 of 52 pages
Back page 
Splash Man U
Picture Moyes
s/c football

Puffs football

4 x football 2 x rugby, 2 x racing, 1 x Olympics, 1 x Pietersen
Mirror Football
supplement 20 pages
Advertising "In association with Vauxhall" straplines,
baseline strips, 2 x half-page, all Vauxhall

Total football space
25 of 72 pages (35%)

Express back page 10-02-14
Main book 12 of 64 pages
Back page 
Splash Man U
Pictures: Bent, Moyes
Write-offs Olympics, Pietersen, rugby
Inside pages
6 x football, 2 x rugby
2 x Olympics, with Pietersen, athletics and boxing at edge
1 x racing
Advertising 10x5 Sky,
25x3 Wickes, 15x2 betting, 
3 house ads
Total football space
7 of 64 pages (11%)

Times back page 10-02-14
The Times
Main book 12 of 64 pages
Back page
Splash Man U
Picture Man U
Puffs 1 x Olympics, 1 x rugby
Inside pages
4 x Olympics,racing 4 x rugby,
1 x cricket, 1 x racing, 1 x opinion
The Game supplement 20 pages
Game advertising Sky Sports baseline strips, 3 house ads
Total football space
21 of 84 pages (25%)

Daily Mail back page 10-02-14
Daily Mail
Main book 16 of 72 pages
Back page 
Splash Man U
Picture Rooney
s/c story Pietersen
Puff rugby
7 x football, 3 x rugby, 2 x opinion
2 x Olympics, with Pietersen and Football Extra, 1 x racing
Advertising Wickes 25x3, 
Sky Sports 10x5, 
Lloyds Pharmacy 15x2,
1 house ad
Total football space
8 of 72 pages (11%)

i back page 10-02-14
Main book 10 of 56 pages
'Back page'
Picture Bent (v Man U)
Splash Sport Matrix roundup
Inside pages 3 x football, 2 x Olympics, 
1.5 x rugby, with golf and tennis, 1 x Pietersen, 0.5 racing, 1 athletics + results roundup
Advertising 4 house ads
Total football space
3.5 of 56 pages (6%)

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Monday 3 February 2014

Forget Gove, floods and benefits, give us Philip Seymour Hoffman

Like most bosses, newspaper editors enjoy perks that are not available to their staff. One of these is the right to Sundays off.

Funnily enough, this tends not to cause resentment because it affords people lower down the pecking order - including those who have little to do with the news operation in their 'day job' - to play with the train set.

Monday newspapers therefore often have a different tone from the rest of the week. Much of the content will have been planned ahead, there will be new series or campaigns and there will be follow-ups from the weekend papers and current affairs programmes. Andrew Marr has a big part to play here. It doesn't leave much room for a Sunday editor to make his or her mark. They will be judged on headline, presentation and, most of all, how they react to that rare thing - a breaking story.

We can see all this at play today. Michael Gove has been everywhere over the weekend, so the row over Sally Morgan's dismissal was the easy splash option. Only the Guardian took that route, however. The Independent also went with Gove, but focused on cost cutting that has apparently left sixth form colleges unable to afford to run maths A level courses. (Really? I don't dispute that they may be short of cash, but there must be something less important that they could drop?)

The Mirror and the i have unearthed prison 'scandals' from Freedom of Information requests and statistical analysis.

The i is concerned about dangerous sex offenders who are being released without having had any treatment to curb their behaviour.

 Economies mean that places on treatment programmes are becoming more scarce - 54 at Maidstone, where there are 500 sex offenders - and that the waiting list is so long that many prisoners are reaching the end of their sentences before they reach the top of the queue.

How shocking is this? Clearly it's not a good thing, but is it putting the public at serious risk?

Prison governors think it is, according to the writer Emily Dugan:

Prisons across England and Wales are routinely releasing dangerous sex offenders without putting them through treatment programmes because budget cuts have left places critically scarce.The situation is so serious that prison governors say it could create more victims, as sexual predators are sent into the community before their behaviour is addressed.

But there is nothing to back up the key assertions in either paragraph - that dangerous offenders are routinely released without treatment or that prison governors are worried about there being more victims.

No governor is quoted in the story; the line about creating more victims comes from an official of a charity that works to prevent child abuse.

Nor do the inspection reports or the December National Audit Office report on which the story is based make any mention of dangerous prisoners. Indeed, the Prison Service says that medium and high-risk prisoners have priority for training programmes.

Dugan has done well in digging around to get her story - but it has been over-egged to the extent that its value is diminished.

The Mirror is concerned about prisoners being paid child and housing benefits, sick pay and even job seekers' allowance while they have been locked away from society. This 'blundering at Iain Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions'  led to £41m being paid out in error over six years, of which only £19.7m has been recovered.

The Labour MP Grahame Morris and the TaxPayers' Alliance are obligingly outraged, with Morris suggesting that the money could have been used to recruit 2,500 more nurses.

Once again, congratulations to Mirror chief reporter Andy Lines for unearthing the story. But not for balance.

IDS has made some crass mistakes and is an easy target. And it is accurate to say that the errors were perpetrated by officials at the department he now heads.

But the payments Lines is writing about were made between 2007 and 2012. According to the figures, £25.2m was paid between 2007 and 2010 - when Labour's James Purnell and Yvette Cooper were in charge - and £16m has been paid since IDS took over. The Mirror does not mention the Labour ministers, nor does it give credit to whoever was responsible for recovering the £19.7m.

It does, however, say that payments last year were £2m, which suggests the problem is being addressed, and that some prisoners are entitled to housing and child benefit.

This Government is getting enough wrong for it to be spared the blame for other people's errors.

Surprisingly, the true blue Mail is also being a little unfair with its splash today on how food giants 'woo' ministers.

 The crux of this story is that health lobbyists can't get through the door to discuss the 'obesity epidemic', whereas the likes of McDonalds, Tesco, Nando's and Pepsi can waltz in whenever they want to.

The paper says that details of the number of meetings held with such companies and the Food and Drink Federation lobby group has led health experts to complain that the Government is keener on listening to the food industry than those with the nation's health at heart.

Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum says 'the industry has a charmed route to the corridors of power that is denied to everyone else.'

The Government has rejected calls for laws to restrict sugar content in food or taxes on fizzy drinks, and the Mail points out that the World Health Organisation has today highlighted the correlation between countries with few regulations on food and high consumption of fast foods.

Fair enough.

The new lobby group Action on Sugar has its first meeting with Jeremy Hunt tonight, but its chairman Graham MacGregor  isn't optimistic of a breakthrough.

"We rarely get access to ministers - they don't want to see us. My impression is that if the food industry want to see them, they get in. The food industry is riding all over us. It's a scandal."

Setting aside the thought that such a comment is unlikely to endear Professor MacGregor to someone he hopes to win over, let's consider this question of the food companies' access.

Early in the story, the Mail writes that Mars, Tesco et al have been 'invited' to see ministers. The federation has seen ministers 16 times and had 99 meetings with officials since 2010, it says. On page 6, a factbox details 14 meetings. Asda features twice, but the other companies listed have just one bite each.

 Action on Sugar was founded last month. It is meeting not a junior minister but the Secretary of State today. That seems like pretty swift access.

Now here's a thought. Could it possibly be that health ministers are opening their doors to food manufacturers and their representatives not to have their ears bent, but to try to persuade them to do something about the sugar, salt and saturates in their products?

Oh yes, that is exactly what the Government has told the Mail.

"We are not giving business, big or small, power over public health policy, but food companies have a big part to play in helping people to lead a healthier life." 

Well, yes, they would say that, wouldn't they?

So perhaps we should take the comment with a pinch of the forbidden white stuff. But what troubles me is that there is not a shred of evidence anywhere in the story to back up the line that the food lobby is pressing its special interests - and that should be easy enough to obtain, because it almost certainly is - or even that it requested any of those meetings.

Elsewhere, the floods still preoccupy the minds of news and picture editors.

The Telegraph creates its splash (sorry) from an oped piece by Chris Smith about difficult choices on which areas should be protected from the water and there is some cute picture cropping to merge photographs of town and country to create a bold and coherent head-picture-story package.


A news story broke yesterday afternoon; one that was of greater interest to more people than anything about the Davis Cup, romcoms or HS2.

Yet the Telegraph had no space on its front for a single word about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Perhaps the news came too late?

No. The actor made a perfunctory page 5 lead with a run-of-the-mill picture sitting awkwardly over a dominant 25x4 ad.

So in the Telegraph's eyes, he was also less important/interesting than a photograph of an orchestra of Stradivari instruments or the risk to British pageantry of cuts to the armed forces that appeared on page 3.

This was a big fail.

The Guardian had three cutouts of him over the masthead pointing to its coverage on the 10-11 spread, where the advert again managed to murder the editorial.

Newspapers are desperate for money and have to bow to increasingly outrageous demands of advertisers (both Times and Telegraph sold their sport supplement covers to Peugeot on Saturday), but these Halifax monstrosities really should be outlawed.

The Guardian's front-page picture of surfers on the Severn was terrific and the paper did justice to Hoffman in the puff. But how much water do we need to see (the Sun's premium-line story excepted)? After the rainiest January in history, we're quite used to it now. 

So hurrah for the Independent's Sunday editor for being the only one to realise what readers would want to see this morning. What a shame there are only 43,000 of them.

The SubScribe website is progressing slowly and should be up and running before too long. A few pages are now available for a sneak preview, including this post in its new format. Please do take a look here...